Notes & lessons of a learning photographer
Rifle memorabilia, Selama, Perak, September 2014
I have not, for three years; made a hand print of a photograph. In between those lost time, the ebbs and flows of memories recede and rise like a tidal wave. Perhaps I was too afraid to create a physical memory of a place or a person, knowing they are now gone. It takes great courage to even touch the negatives again. One may destroy them in the process of creating something much larger and in turn, destroy oneself again.
Yet, it is only when we are reduced to ashes, that we rise with the wind. Of all prints, I chose to make one of a particular home in a particular morning. The morning was crisp and cold, I remembered. But in the picture, I could not feel its cool blast of air engulfing the kitchen. What I saw was not what I felt. I saw a great light that represented heat and warmth, and it was unstoppable. It simply reached and reached out. The morning sun light- penetrated through windows and every possible slit and crack it could find- found its way past the door, the cement floor, and tranfixed its gaze at the owner’s feet. One foot was perching lightly on the floor, as though a bird is ready to take flight, as though she was about to perform a pirouette. She would move and that moment would be gone too soon. Like a sparrow, she would fly off again. Yet the whole time, it was the white door, as though a photograph on its own with shadows of window frames imprinted on it, remains where it will be at each passing light, person. One may walk through it to go out and come back again as long as the door shall remain. I could not understand this earlier but The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard pointed this to me-
At the door of the house who will come knocking?
An open door, we enter
A closed door, a den
The world pulse beats beyond my door.
-Pierre Albert Birot
Les Amusements Naturels
Dare I open it?
The poetics of space
"Between the moment recorded and the present moment of looking at the photograph, there is an abyss. We are so used to photography that we no longer consciously register the second of these twin messages- except in special circumstances: when, for example, the person photographed was familiar to us and is now far away or dead. In such circumstances the photograph is more traumatic than most memories or mementos because it seems to confirm, prophetically, the later discontinuity created by the absence or death. Imagine for a moment that you were once in love with (this man) and that he has now disappeared."
- John Berger, Appearances- The Ambiguity of the Photograph
"With the loss of memory the continuities of meaning and judgment are also lost to us. The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget.
Meanwhile we live today in the world as it is. Yet this possible prophecy of photography indicates the direction in which any alternative use of photography needs to develop. The task…is to incorporate photography into social and political memory, instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any such memory.
For the photographer, this means thinking of her- or himself not so much as a reporter to the rest of the world but rather, as a recorder for those involved in the events photographed.
The aim must be to construct a context for a photograph, to construct it with words, to construct it with other photographs, to construct it by its place in an ongoing text of photographs and images.
If we want to put a photograph back into the context of experience, social experience, social memory, we have to respect the laws of memory.
There is never a single approach to something remembered."
- Uses of photography, for Susan Sontag, by John Berger in Understanding a Photograph
"The great German filmmaker Werner Herzog, said in 1983: "I truly believe that the lack of adequate images is a danger…I have said that before and I repeat it again and again, and as long as I can speak I will speak out for that. If we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs." Whether the images that you go on to make after today will, as Herzog has it, be adequate to save us- or at least alert us to the NEED to be saved- depends on if we, your audience, engaged in our myriad of communities, can find in them some resonating evidence of how we live now. Good luck. And thank you."
- Tod Papageorge, 2004 Yale School of Art commencement talk
"For me, photography started in a very raw place. I didn’t take to it because I was interested in it. It was just that I was in a certain place in life where I was really low, and a camera was given to me, and it made me feel good to look at the photos. It was to do more with the feeling, like I was worth something. That’s what made me take to photography.
I’m a very different photographer now, who ‘knows’ too much, and I’m not so lost anymore. Earlier on, I was lost but I was really happy. Right now, I don’t ‘love’ photography, it’s a love-hate thing going on. It’s frustration, and I can’t do anything else. It is the only thing I want to be with. I have been, in a very strange way, lucky, to have started from a place where it was more of a need than a want or interest. I needed to make me feel good, just by creating something.
I’ve been lucky to have met really good people who confronted me with difficult questions, which I think is a very important part of the process. Sometimes you’re able to pose these questions to yourself, but sometimes someone else may ask you uncomfortable questions that challenge your beliefs. It may make you realize how you are being a hypocrite, which then leads to another question – do I continue in that direction, or do I let go of those principles, and not try to put up a façade or do something about it?
For me, the more I get away from the system, the happier I am, and more free. These grants and awards which come our way, even though they can be helpful, sometimes you need to be categorized as a certain photographer to fit into the agenda of all these things.
I’d rather see something that’s really raw, that makes you feel something or even better, something that makes you react, rather than something that just fits into an idea of being ‘contemporary’ or anything else just for the sake of it. I feel like we are in a state of flux, where there is a lot of confusion amongst photographers, and more than photographers actually, the gatekeepers of the photo world- Sohrab Hura
In my few meetings with Sohrab, he has always posed me very tough questions about where I am in photography and what i am doing with it. He is like a prophet who comes into your life, hit you hard with his walking stick and words of wisdom and then disappears again. But his words always compel a change in me."
"We pause, we recognize; we try to work it out."
- Gregory Maguire, on Maurice Sendak’s works.
"Looking back, we don’t know if the wars of Homer’s epics actually happened. The role of the ancient storyteller wasn’t to relay facts but to impart greater truths: archetypes, emotions, political structures, and the nature of human experience."
- Stephen Mayes, former director of VII Photo, Aperture no. 214